September 28, 2004: Headlines: COS - Fiji: Politics: Election2004 - Younkin: Missoulian: Unexpected turns in life lead Fiji RPCV Cindy Younkin to career in law

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Fiji: Peace Corps Fiji : The Peace Corps in Fiji: September 28, 2004: Headlines: COS - Fiji: Politics: Election2004 - Younkin: Missoulian: Unexpected turns in life lead Fiji RPCV Cindy Younkin to career in law

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Unexpected turns in life lead Fiji RPCV Cindy Younkin to career in law

Unexpected turns in life lead Fiji RPCV Cindy Younkin to career in law

Unexpected turns in life lead Fiji RPCV Cindy Younkin to career in law

Unexpected turns in life lead Younkin to career in law
By JENNIFER McKEE of the Missoulian State Bureau

HELENA - When you meet Rep. Cindy Younkin, R-Bozeman, you might think "lawyer" or "Republican."

You don't necessarily think "singing and dancing." Or "Peace Corps."

Younkin's is a life of contrasts - and controversies. A three-term GOP legislator now running for the Montana Supreme Court, Younkin, 45, has decisively rural roots.

Yet, she has a lifelong interest in other cultures, a fact evidenced by her three, separate stints living and touring abroad.

Politics, she said, was never a big deal her life. But once Younkin entered the fray in 1999, she emerged as a lightning rod Republican.

She's now applying her formidable politicking skills to her latest race, an attempt to unseat incumbent Justice Jim Nelson from the Montana Supreme Court. Coming on strong, Younkin early on accused Nelson of being anti-business and "activist," charges he denies. But she has not avoided criticism herself. Younkin, a Bozeman water lawyer, is accused of being a shill for powerful corporate interests. Others say her legal career is thin and that as a lawyer with little experience in the courtroom, Younkin is not qualified to be one of the state's ultimate arbiters. She refutes both attacks.

Younkin was born in Alliance, Neb., in 1958, one of five children.

Her parents were cattle ranchers and her early life in Nebraska sounds like the stuff of a Laura Ingalls Wilder book. She and her siblings rode horses to a one-room schoolhouse with no indoor plumbing or electricity.

The family bounced around a bit in Younkin's early life, moving briefly to Whitehall, and later to Fort Collins, Colo., where Younkin's mother attended nursing school. But by the time Younkin was in first grade, her family had settled on the 230-acre cattle ranch near Manhattan she has always considered home.

She graduated from Manhattan High School in 1976, and took a job making salads at Bair's Truck Stop in Belgrade. At the time, she said, it was "brand new," and all in all, not a bad place for an 18-year-old ranch kid to work.

College, she said, "wasn't really something that was expected. You didn't have to go to college to be successful. In my high school graduating class, probably fewer than 10 went to college. I bet you only five of us ever graduated."

But Younkin's mom, Wilma, didn't think too highly of the prospect of her daughter - who'd gone to Girls State and worked on the high school newspaper - spending her life at a truck stop.

So, with mom's encouragement, Younkin took a one-year course learning to be a medical lab assistant in Bozeman. After graduation, she enrolled at Montana State University in Bozeman and worked as a lab tech in the evenings and on weekends to put herself through school.

She studied microbiology for two years and then Younkin's life took the kind of unexpected turn that would become something of a norm: She enrolled in Up With People.

The now-defunct youth group assembled young people from around the globe to spend a year traveling the world performing uplifting songs and dancing for audiences.

Younkin traveled around the United States and Europe with the group.

She returned to Bozeman in 1980, finished her microbiology degree in 1982 and, once again, decided to travel.

"I still had a valid passport from Up With People," she said. "So I bought a plane ticket to Australia and went by myself. I thought if I waited for someone to go with me, I'll never go."

Younkin was in Australia and New Zealand for about nine months. She briefly worked on a sheep ranch, but mostly traveled, staying in youth hostels and "doing everything on the cheap."

Returning to Manhattan in the summer of 1983, she worked for her dad on the ranch until that winter, when she was a lift operator for Bridger Bowl Ski Area. Then, just a year after coming home from Australia, Younkin was off again, this time for a two-year stint with the Peace Corps bound for Fiji.

She worked as a lab tech, first in Suva, the island country's capital city, and later, on a smaller, more primitive island with bush hospitals Younkin said more closely resembled first aid stations.

Younkin left the Peace Corps in 1986 when she was 27. On the way back to Montana, her life took another unexpected turn. She stopped in Portland, Ore., to visit a friend. Younkin had been kicking around the idea of going to law school for a while. While in Portland, she visited Lewis and Clark Law School. The administrator told her if she wanted to attend that fall, she was welcome.

"I hadn't even unpacked," Younkin said. "I hadn't even been home yet."

Still, she took the necessary tests that summer and started law school that fall. Two years later, she transferred to the University of Montana Law School, but received her degree from Lewis and Clark.

It was during law school that she fell in love with her future husband, Terry Koral, whom she had known since college and seen periodically after graduation. They ran into each other again the summer after law school.

"And then we just started dating," Younkin said. They were married in 1989.

After all that running around, Younkin went back to Bozeman and has practiced mostly water law ever since. She's also the city attorney for White Sulphur Springs where she handles misdemeanor crimes like first-time drunken driving charges and underage drinking.

Her first dip into politics came in 1994, when she ran an unsuccessful campaign as a Republican for the state Senate. ("I got 81 votes," Younkin said.) She ran again for the House in 1998 and has won elections ever since, although her last go-round came down to just 109 votes.

In the House, Younkin acquired a reputation as a steely lawmaker and has carried some of the most contentious bills of recent sessions, including a successful attempt to weaken the Montana Environmental Policy Act - a move which won her the reputation of a "rape and pillage Republican."

"She can take the heat," said Sen. Dan McGee, R-Laurel, who served as speaker of the House in the 2001 session when Younkin was House whip. For the last two sessions, Younkin has served as chairwoman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which handles some of the Legislature's most emotionally charged bills. McGee said he never had any doubt Younkin could handle the committee fairly.

"I think you would find even her philosophical opponents would agree she was very straightforward," he said. "There were things she and I don't agree on, but she has a rationale and a philosophy. It's not random on her part."

But he and others know a different side of Younkin, too. She's "dynamic," said McGee. And funny, said Barry O'Connell, a partner in the firm of Moore, O'Connell and Refling, where Younkin has worked since 1989. Younkin is also a partner.

"She's a delightful person," he said. "She puts on an air of toughness, but she's an absolute marshmallow. If she gets elected, I will miss her a lot."

As a lawyer, O'Connell said Younkin is busy and sharp, but "possessive of her time."

Although they have no children of their own, Younkin and Koral have repeatedly served as foster parents, especially for older, harder-to-place children. They took in one boy when he was 13 and raised him for two years.

The couple has not taken in kids since 1995, as Younkin's work intensified, but, she said, "we'd do it again. This is something that we can do."

For several years in the early 1990s, Younkin also served as a free lawyer for children in the process of becoming wards of the state.

She is involved in a list of community clubs, from the 4-H Foundation to the Lion's Club.

In the 2003 session, Younkin was again in the spotlight. She supported a bill that would have repealed parts of the citizen-passed ban on new and expanding game farms. It was during a heated debate over the bill - which ultimately failed - that Younkin uttered the sentence that sparked a firestorm of controversy and letters to the editor: "Just because it was passed by the will of the people," she said, "doesn't make it right."

Younkin now defends that line, saying it was taken out of context and that she really meant that just because the people voted for it, doesn't make it constitutional.

Although praised for her ability to take on legislative controversies, Younkin said she wants to put that part of her life behind her. She's not interested in passing laws anymore, she said, but interpreting them.

"If I wanted to push a political agenda, I would run for re-election," she said.

Younkin refutes the suggestion that she's carrying the water for big business, stating she's running only to bring restraint back to the court. Making new laws and policies is not the business of the Supreme Court, she said, a practice she once described as "offensive."

On her Web site, Younkin promises to do her "level best to check her personal politics at the door of the Justice Building."

When this story was posted in October 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Missoulian

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Fiji; Politics; Election2004 - Younkin



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